Entitled to Empowerment: part two on working with Millennials

In this three-part series we spend some time unpacking what we’ve learned about hiring and working with Millennials in a professional services environment. To catch up on the first part of the series click here!

Every generation finds the one that follows confusing and often scary, but few seem to have been as professionally difficult to understand as Millennials. I regularly hear business owners and leaders scratch their heads and groan about millennials. What do they care about, how do I motivate them, how do I retain them or incentivize them effectively? I watched a former boss, a very astute and experienced manager overseeing hundreds of employees, fight mightily to tow the traditional line and suppress the undercurrent of forces pushing up from his young (increasingly millennial) workforce. The company struggled mightily with it and now sits somewhere in the middle, trying to put a glossy veneer on a traditional environment. The symptoms of this disconnect are extremely high turnover, tons of negative GlassDoor reviews and a subversive undercurrent of dissatisfaction that leadership constantly combats. In this series, I hope to punctuate how a committed reader could improve their own business and avoid some of these pitfalls.

Depending on who you talk to, Millennials are those born from the early ’80s to early 2000s. I was born in 1981 and think of myself as able to walk the line and observe the old and new mindset. Millennials are a demographic of extremely bright, motivated, digitally-literate, complex and hard-working individuals, but their talents must be tapped in a way that coincides with who they believe they are. After all, they make up 28% of Portland’s population and 26% Nationally. If you get it right, you have the opportunity to hire and promote from the largest demographic in America. If you fail, you will find your company aging and struggling to keep up with nimble, innovative newcomer competitors coming at you from all directions.

At Upward Technology, we have been effective in hiring, managing and promoting Millennials up through our ranks, and I hope some insights may be valuable about how we’ve done it. This is a three-part series: Who Are Millennials, What Motivates them Professionally, and What Can Any Business Do to Adapt to the Needs/Wants of this Generation?

What Motivates Millennials Professionally

In the previous article, I discussed the intrinsic motivators that drive millennials. More than anything, as our headline states, Millennials are empowered. They are empowered because they have access to so much data and a collective voice that they know is powerful. If they don’t like something, they disengage. They buy a different product, follow another podcast, date another person, or find another job. Often their loyalty, or lack thereof, revolves around perceived authenticity. In a world that can seem so fake, is this “thing”, real?

In many ways, this behavior is human, timeless and unremarkable. In the ’60s and ’70s, as a cultural revolution rocked the establishment, hundreds of thousands turned out to protest the Vietnam War. If people had accepted the political rhetoric at face value, the US invasion into Southeast Asia was preventing the spread of communism and it’s threat to our way of life. Yet access to journalism and media showed inconsistencies in what they heard and what they saw. Many Boomers revolted against everything that movement stood for by protesting, disengaging and collectively “unionizing”. Today’s millennial tendencies are an evolution and extrapolation of those very same human tendencies, except Millennials have access to information on everything that touches their lives, and connectivity across a much broader coalition of cohorts.

I have heard numerous people complain (through both subtext and overtly) that millennials don’t care about much, are lazy, disloyal and entitled. In my experience this is largely untrue, most millennials I know are loyal and hard-working to a fault. But millennials will only feel engaged and loyal when there is consistent, honest, authentic messaging that coincides with what they believe. And what they believe has more influences than ever, so millennials need to feel a strong connection to an underlying story and mission to feel content. As convoluted as it may sound, Millennials feel entitled to feeling the way they feel about something.

Millennials need to feel empowered (personally and professionally) to change and control their circumstances in order to contribute most effectively. This is where innovation and technology hold so much collective attention for the millennial generation. In the microcosm of their job, they need to feel that they can influence and control their circumstances, and through technology, they see no reason they shouldn’t be able to. State-of-the-art, innovative technology is a key component to employee empowerment and consequent motivation.

So what I have outlined in a nutshell is that millennials want to feel connected, empowered and autonomous. Not too radical!


Ivey Business Journal

Census Bureau

Entrepreneur Magazine

Check back on the Upward Blog soon to read the next part in our three-part series about Millennials and what makes them tick. Thanks for reading!